Saturday, February 27, 2010

Imagination is the Key

In thinking about the importance of NEA’s Read Across America Day, I am reminded of The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins by Theador Seuss Geisel (Dr. Seuss). As teachers, we all wear many hats, and sometimes we don’t realize how many hats we are wearing and the sheer scope of what we are trying to teach to our students. No matter what “hat” we are wearing or what subject we are teaching at the time, reading is the fundamental skill for our students’ success in that subject. Reading is the most basic of the 21st century skills our students need today to excel in “The School of Life” after graduation. This March, let’s allow Dr. Seuss to inspire us all to bring the kind of fun and imagination into our classrooms that he brings into his stories. After all, “the brains in our head” are so important; we need to make sure to have fun filling them with important information in school!

Dr. Seuss was passionate about literacy. He created fanciful characters and imaginative stories to bring fun into reading for beginning and advanced readers alike. Reading Rockets, a national multimedia project for teaching kids to read, brings this passion for literacy and the love of reading to their programs and resources. Joann highlighted some of these resources this week in honor of Read Across America Day. They offer fun, cross-curricular activities that can be used to inspire readers in many different grades and subjects. The activities tie original and playful themes from Dr. Seuss’s books to important subjects our students are learning in class every day.

If you browse through the Reading Rockets site linked in Joann’s post, you will probably find a valuable Read Across America resource you can implement into your class to do your part to encourage the importance of literacy. In fact, you will most likely find lots activities you like. The hard part is choosing which one to use! There are numerous ideas for primary students. There are lessons to learn about phonics, rhyming, themes, and idea development in writing, to name a few. These activities are presented in fun, hands-on ways that can be very memorable for students. Reading Rockets also has a link to the AdLit site, which has a section with creative activities to engage secondary students. After all, nobody is too old for Dr. Seuss, right? Some of the secondary activities studied Dr. Seuss’s political and environmental views as portrayed in his stories, comparing his work to other authors, and using his themes for original student work.

What happens when we try to bring this focus on reading out of the English classroom? Can we successfully use books by Dr. Seuss in science, social studies, art or physical education? With the resources I looked at on the Reading Rockets site and by searching for “Seuss” on the main Gateway page, I say we can! We can all have fun using a little imagination and unconventional ideas in our classrooms. Here is just a beginning list of some of the activities I found in a search of The Gateway’s materials. There are too many resources to list here; I just wanted to give you a taste of what is out there. Search for yourself, and see!

In Social Studies, you can use The Sneetches to draw students into a lesson on diversity. You can create a mock trial in your classroom based on ideas from Yertle the Turtle. Community building and team work can be stressed in the story of Horton Hears a Who.

Science classes focusing on environmental issues and biodiversity can learn a lot by reading The Lorax. Science students of all levels seem to love making and playing with oobleck, a substance inspired by the book Bartholomew and the Oobleck. (Search oobleck on The Gateway for some recipes-don’t worry it’s easy to make, and I have had fun making it with kids from preschool to high school!)

For schools that are creating school-wide celebrations for Read Across America, or for P.E. teachers who want to tie into the theme in their own classes, there is a plan for an entire field day event based on Dr. Seuss books. On this topic, if any of you are P.E. teachers or know P.E. teachers, let them know about The Gateway, too. I have come across lots of great physical activities that could bring a little extra variety into these lessons, too.

The activities for secondary students went a lot more in-depth into the themes Dr. Seuss created. One involves writing an op-ed piece trying to convince someone to try a new, strange food ala Green Eggs and Ham. Another focuses on psychoanalytic criticism introduced in the book The Cat and the Hat (and we thought it was a book just for kids!) The Butter Battle Book can serve as a whimsical foray into the use of satire in writing.

If your students are like many others, the way to their heart is food! There are plenty of ideas for bringing food into the celebration. It can be as basic as serving goldfish while you read One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish to your class. Students can decorate cupcakes to celebrate the birthday of Dr. Seuss. Maybe you can even whip up a batch of green eggs and ham (yum!). It can also be really fun to have students look through the books and find a food they would like to recreate. They can do this for homework and bring it in to share with the class.

Read Across America is a day is to celebrate reading, but the focus on reading and the imagination it can create will easily spread into all subject areas. As I searched The Gateway for the vast resources available on the subject, I realized that Dr. Seuss can still teach us just about anything! Let’s all try to incorporate this theme somewhere in our classrooms this week to spark some imaginations and put the FUN back in reading.

~Peggy's Corner~

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